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LitWatch Monthly: Virtually November

ArtsWatch's new language arts column arrives just in time for a busy November. Amy Leona Havin reports.


With the transition of Portland’s literary events from lively in-person readings to responsibly distanced online platforms, one might expect a lull of silence from the community. Luckily, National Novel Writing Month, the Portland Book Festival, and Literally Crawling are upon us, making this November’s lit scene anything but silent.

Each year, the changing leaves mark the start of November’s National Novel Writing Month. A big event among book writers from memoirists to sci-fi authors, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a virtual platform which encourages writers across the globe to participate in an intensive month-long novel writing process. With over a million users, the NaNoWriMo platform guides both novice and experienced book writers in generating 50,000 words over the course of 30 days, offering badges and rewards in exchange for consistent word count tracking and community participation.

Similar to a social media account, allows writers to connect with ‘buddies’ in their location, has chat rooms and groups available for writer’s block support, and offers a myriad of resources including pep talks from well-known authors, virtual write-in meet ups, and a calendar of writing workshops. Though National Novel Writing Month technically begins on the 1st of November, the NaNoWriMo platform is available year-round so don’t worry about joining in late!

If writing a 50,000-word novel over the span of one month is not your cup of tea, the Portland Book Festival, presented by Literary Arts, has plenty of readings and discussions for you to tune into and enjoy. Occurring virtually from November 5-21 this year, the Portland Book Festival has an impressive line-up including 19 pop-up readings recorded at the Portland Art Museum, 12 writing workshops, and more than 25 authors and presenters.

This year’s main featured authors in partnership with Powell’s Books include Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson, Washington-based author Jess Walter, and internationally-acclaimed bestselling author Margaret Atwood. Along with this accomplished list, the Portland Book Festival offers more than 100 readings from novelists, poets, picture book authors, young adult writers, and more. While most events throughout the festival will be free of charge, some events require a book purchase to act as a virtual ticket. 

The organization behind the Portland Book Festival, Literary Arts, is a non-profit organization established in Portland in 1984. It boasts the country’s largest lecture series as well as more than 100 available community programs every year. Rather than asking their guest speakers to read from their published works, authors create tailor-made lectures and presentations to deliver to the Literary Arts audiences. Their extensive annual programming of the Portland Book Festival is enjoyed by both readers and writers in-person each year as it “builds community around literature through author events, writing classes, an exhibitor fair, and more.” Though this year’s festival will take place virtually, its offerings promise to be captivating.

While the Portland Book Festival presses on another year by turning to an online platform, there’s another literary event series unafraid to make its virtual debut in a post-pandemic world. Literally Crawling is a brand new virtual lit crawl collaboration between Portland-based Zines + Things, Colorado-based Unchaste Readers, and Nampa, Idaho-based Death Rattle Writers Festival. In association with the Poetry Society of New York, Literally Crawling offers two full days featuring five curated shows from each participating literary group. The Poetry Brothel, one of the lit crawl’s Saturday night events, is described as an immersive literary cabaret, fusing writing, activism, vaudeville, burlesque, live music, one-on-one poetry experiences, and more. During The Poetry Brothel, “a ‘madam’ presents a rotating cast of artisans” who intend to create immersive and intimate performances through the lens of self-constructed characters. 


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“We look at adapting our programming to be completely online as a wonderful chance to foster new communities of writers and artists alongside our literary arts community in a way that is inspiring, new, and uplifting,” says Sarah Pincock of Death Rattler Writers Festival. In addition, each participating organization will be raising funds for a charitable cause local to their city. Literally Crawling, in all its daring artistry, might just become one of our new favorite (virtual) autumn literary staples.

With this many enchanting events all broadcasting on the world wide web, I suggest that you grab a warm beverage, put on your coziest sweatpants, and settle in. This month will have you busier than ever, from the comfort of your own couch.

Week 1: November 1-7

Portland Book Festival
Presented by Literary Arts
November 5-22, 2020
Held Virtually
Free Event, Some events require ticket purchase

Portland’s own beloved Portland Book Festival is a two and a half week long festival including 19 pop up readings recorded at the Portland Art Museum, 12 writing workshops, and more than 25 authors and presenters. Featured authors include Isabel Wilkerson, Jess Walter, and Margaret Atwood, and more.

Romance Book Club 

Presented by Books Around the Corner
Thursday, November 5
5-6pm on ZOOM
Free Event


Washougal Art & Music Festival

Looking to join a book club? Books Around the Corner’s recurring book clubs invite you to dive into literary discourse in a safe, lively, and inviting atmosphere. This month’s Romance Book Club will be joined by author Sally Thorne to discuss her novel The Hating Game, a USA Today Bestseller comedy that will soon be turned into a movie.

BYOB (Bring Your Own Book) or pay a $5 book club fee to download the ebook or audiobook directly from Books Around the Corner.

Livestream Reading: Ashley Sweeney with Ellen Notbohm
Presented by Annie Bloom’s Books
Thursday, November 5
7-9pm on ZOOM
Free Event

Portland author Ellen Notbohm sits down to talk with Washington-based author Ashley Sweeney about her new novel, Answer Creek. Sweeney is an award winning author praised for her honest depictions of the Oregon-California Trail. “Researched with impeccable detail and filled with imagery as wide as the western prairie, Answer Creek blends history and hearsay in an unforgettable story,” She Writes Press

Week 2: November 8-14

Livestream Reading: Ellen Michaelson with Natalie Serber
Presented by Annie Bloom’s Books
Thursday, November 10
7-8pm on ZOOM
Free Event

Annie Bloom’s Books hosts Portland author Ellen Michaelson in conversation with fellow Portland author Natalie Serber for a reading from her debut novel The Care of Strangers. Winner of the 2019 Miami Book Fair/de Groot Prize, Michaelson’s new novel is a story about a friendship that takes place in a Brooklyn medical setting. Michaelson is both an author and physician in Portland with an MFA from Pacific University, and uses her experience in both worlds to fuel her work.


Washougal Art & Music Festival

Youth Writing Workshop
Hopes/Fears/Feathers: The Art of the Notebook and the Bird in your Yard 
Presented by Literary Art and Portland Book Festival
Instructed by Laura Moulton
Thursday, November 12
4-6pm on ZOOM
$0-$20 Sliding Scale

During this portion of the Portland Book Festival workshop series, young writers grades 9-12 are invited to work with instructor Laura Moulton to “identify and then banish fears, generate new work on the page, and examine ways the writer’s notebook can help to focus our attention”. Students will explore the poems of Claudia Rankine and Emily Dickinson, and experience the mastery of New York birder, Christian Cooper.

Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic
Featuring Penelope Scambly Schott
Presented by Printed Matter, Vancouver
Hosted by Christopher Luna, Toni Lumbrazo Luna, and Morgan Paige
Thursday, November 12
7-9pm on ZOOM
$5 Suggested Donation

If you’re looking for an all-ages, uncensored, live poetry event turned online literary series, then check out Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic. Boasting a “LGBTQ+ friendly, pro-science, anti-fascist, all-ages, uncensored reading since 2004”, Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic operates in a typical open mic format with one featured reader during each monthly event. Their November featured reader, Penelope Scambly Schott, is a past recipient of the Oregon Book Award for Poetry and co-host of the White Dog Poetry Salon, a Portland-based literary reading event. 

Oregon Book Award winner Penelope Scambly Schott

Due to the new Zoom format, Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic asks those interested in attending to email ahead of time to indicate your interest in either reading or spectating. Open mic readers are invited to share one poem of three minutes or less.

Literally Crawling
In association with the Poetry Society of New York
Presented by Zines + Things, Unchaste Readers, Death Rattle Writers Fest
November 14-15
Held Virtually
$7 Suggested Donation

Literally Crawling is a new virtual lit crawl with roots in Portland, Colorado, and Nampa, Idaho. Featuring two days of readers from each participating organization, Literally Crawling offers an immersive display including poetry, burlesque, music, cabaret, activism, and more.


Oregon Cultural Trust

Week 3: November 15-21

Dearly: Margaret Atwood
In conversation with Karen Russell
Presented by Portland Book Festival
5:30pm Tuesday, November 17
Ticketed event; virtual entry with book purchase

It’s Margaret! The author of more than 45 titles, including The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, will be in conversation with Pulitzer Prize-finalist Karen Russell as part of this month’s Portland Book Festival. Atwood will be discussing her recently published book of poems, Dearly, which is her first collection of poetry in more than a decade. In Dearly, Atwood touches on the subjects of nature, time, love, loss, and even zombies, “cast[ing] her unique imagination and unyielding, observant eye over the landscape of a life carefully and intuitively lived.”

Jacqueline Winspear in Conversation with Sarah Maslin Nir
Presented by Broadway Books
Wednesday, November 18
5:30pm on ZOOM
Ticketed event; virtual entry with book purchase

Jacqueline Winspear, writer of the Maise Dobbs series, announces a virtual book launch event for her upcoming memoir, This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing. Join Winspear as she speaks with New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir about her “deeply personal memoir that reveals the hardships and joys of her family history”.

Open Mic and Poetry Slam
Presented by Literary Arts and Portland Book Festival
Thursday, November 19
7-9pm on ZOOM
Free Event

If slam poetry is your jam, the monthly Slamlandia open mic and poetry slam series is for you. Once per month, Slamlandia provides a creative and exciting platform for both new and experienced poets to read their work in front of a lively and exuberant audience. While slam poetry is highly encouraged, all forms of poetry are welcome at Slamlandia. This month’s Slamlandia will take place on Zoom with pre-registration required.


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Week 4: November 22-30

Jonathan Hill in Conversation with Lisa Ko
Presented by Powell’s Books
Tuesday, November 24
6pm on ZOOM
Free Event

Join Portland-based graphic illustrator Jonathan Hill as he speaks with National Book Award Finalist Lisa Ko about his new graphic novel, Odessa, which chronicles the journey of three siblings in the search for their missing mother across a ruined America. Powell’s Books could fill up the entire calendar all by itself, so be sure to check the bookstore’s calendar of events for other possibilities.

Faith G. Harper and Joe Biel
Presented by Powell’s Books
Sunday, November 29
2pm on ZOOM
Free Event

Former TEDx presenter and licensed professional counselor Faith G. Harper Ph.D. and Microcosm Publisher Joe Biel announce a virtual discussion on their new book, HOW TO BE ACCOUNTABLE. For anyone ready to “do the work to change toxic behaviors… from quitting smoking to atoning for abuse or crimes,” Harper and Biel intend to help you understand and untangle your behavioral patterns in order to live a more honest and fulfilling life.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Amy Leona Havin is a poet, essayist, and arts journalist based in Portland, Oregon. She writes about language arts, dance, and film for Oregon ArtsWatch and is a staff writer with The Oregonian/OregonLive. Her work has been published in San Diego Poetry Annual, HereIn Arts Journal, Humana Obscura, The Chronicle, and others. She has been an artist-in-residence at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Archipelago Gallery, and Art/Lab, and was shortlisted for the Bridport International Creative Writing Prize in poetry. Havin holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts and is the Artistic Director of Portland-based dance performance company, The Holding Project.


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